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  05.12.05 Issue #166

Are Your Patients Satisfied or Disgruntled? How Would You Know?

Sally Mckenzie, CEO
The McKenzie Company

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Why do your patients stay? Why do they leave? Do you know? More importantly, do you care enough to ask? One of the keys to building and sustaining a successful practice is understanding what attracts patients and keeps them returning. Is your office conveniently located? Is your schedule flexible? Are your employees friendly? Is your reputation for quality unsurpassed? Learning why patients choose your care certainly is important.

But the greater eye-opener is learning what leads a certain percentage to walk away and never return. What are their concerns? Is there a specific problem? Do they feel they are treated poorly? Do they find parking in downtown New York City easier than navigating a spot in your lot? Few patients will ever verbalize a complaint or concern. In fact, it is said that only one in 26 will ever utter a word of discontent. The rest just go on fuming and eventually walk away.

Thus, dentists and teams blissfully go along believing that all is well, repeating the same mistakes again, and again, and again. After all, how could you possibly fix a problem that you are oblivious to? You can't.

Ironically, many dental teams will assert that “If a patient had any real concerns or problems we would know.” Sure you would, just like you would know their birthdates, or their medical histories, or their dental objectives. Teams that operate under this omnipresent, all-knowing fantasy are the ones least likely to ask patients for feedback and the most likely to benefit from doing so. Talking to your patients reveals priceless information that could yield significant opportunity for practice growth. For those of you ready and willing to learn a thing or two, I recommend a simple patient questionnaire.

The knowledge gained from a straightforward patient survey can yield major returns for the entire team. If you have concerns about how employees are interacting with patients, find out if those worries are valid. If you are considering a major change to your practice, such as relocating or opening a second office, discover how your patients would react before you're standing alone in the middle of your field of dreams. If a few patients have expressed concerns about the new financial policy find out how many others feel the same.

When surveying your patients follow a few basic rules:

  • Rule #1: Resist the temptation to slap together a few questions and mail your homemade survey out to the masses. You will likely only hear from those who have strong positive or negative opinions of your practice. What's more, homemade surveys often lead the witness and create false, unreliable readings. Remember, garbage in – garbage out.
  • Rule #2: Invest in a statistically valid survey instrument. A professionally developed survey tool is designed to ask questions that will elicit the most valuable and revealing information. For example, the question, “Do you find the office décor appealing?” may prompt one response from a patient. Whereas, “Does the office décor make you feel comfortable?” may reveal different yet far more useful information. In addition, professionally developed survey tools build redundancy into the questions in order to measure the consistency in the patients' responses further ensuring an accurate reading.
  • Rule #3: Look for professional survey tools that are concise, simple. and vary the questions so that patients provide both short answers and select from multiple choice answers.
  • Rule #4: Distribute the survey to 50 repeat patients who visit the office. This will ensure that you collect a statistically valid sample.
  • Rule #5: Implement reasonable suggestions promptly. This demonstrates clearly to patients that not only do you want their input, you are prepared to act on their suggestions.
    A professional survey is the cheapest private investigator you'll ever hire. It will reveal more about your practice and your patients' likes and dislikes than you ever considered possible.

To order your Professional Survey go here.

If you have any questions or comments, please email Sally McKenzie at

Interested in having Sally speak to your dental society or study club? Click here.

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